A look across the gaming landscape sees the revival of Pitfall incoming and of course, word of another Silent Hill. But really, we all know how these things generally end – i.e. not well at all. With UbiSoft claiming new tech breeds new property, one has to ask – why can’t we just do that now and skip new hardware?
New Intellectual Property is a good thing.
Remember this generation has brought us many new and fantastic games to get stuck into; from the exquisite Dark Souls through to Assassin’s Creed (which took until the second game to get truly great), from the perfect chaos of Bayonetta to the slapstick chaos of Bulletstorm. Oh, and it would be churlish of me not to mention BioShock, Left4Dead, Metro 2033, Gears of War and Mass Effect. I really could go on but I won’t. I think we all need to face a truth here; there have been plenty of perfectly good new IPs this generation, a lot of which have done very well for themselves in an otherwise competitive market.
But Yves Guillemot has a problem; that we’ve been in this generation too long, that towards the end of a generation people WANT new IP and new games, but don’t “buy” them as their friends play other games, meaning the start of a new console generation is the ideal and necessary time to seed new games.
I’d like to say, in an unbiased way and as politely as possible; “What a steaming pile of arse cookies!”
Part of it has a lot to do with the stuff I said in an earlier post – the gaming community this generation has become a mass of… well… shit. I know this is a generalisation and yes, I know I know, this is going to get me spanked at some point. But let me start by saying – I don’t think this is wholly the fault of the community that has grown up around this generation. We’ve been forced online through better internet, in-build methods of connecting our devices to the internet via cable or wi-fi, meaning more DRM and security checks than ever before. With digital downloads taking off, there’s a period of time for some that simply means they have time to waste reading stuff on the internet. And so much of that in particular is hate-filled drivel, laced with biased opinions and a lack of true understanding. Games are being wheeled out far too often for the sake of it; some feel like they simply go through the motions.
But look at my list – BioShock wasn’t there at the start of this generation and truth is, it’s great. Really great. And sold by the shedload too. Dark Souls (and Demon’s Souls prior) have come in at the tail-end of a generation, and sold well in excess of two million copies. Bayonetta sold 1.35 million copies as of March 2010, but has done considerably more in the meantime (more on this later). We HAVE new IPs coming into the market and doing really well for themselves at every stage of the generation. What do all of these games have in common? Well, for a start, they are QUALITY.
I may bemoan Gears of War but I can’t deny it’s a well put together game. Even if a game is just good, if it is also well made then it does take off. People can SEE quality and often they buy quality as well. There are exceptions – but I think there’s a snobbish attitude to games like Catherine, because they are “too Japanese” (which is as crude and offensive as it sounds). That has been building for a good sixteen years; you won’t be rid of it in one generation. It will take a lot more time to iron that stain on the industry out. But even there, Catherine sold really rather well considering how unfashionable it is. It is a quality product, and people liked the fact it was a quality product – and very different from the usual fare. It managed to sell enough to justify its porting to the West.
So Mr. Guillemot is wrong – especially when you note that UbiSoft are releasing a brand new IP at the very end of this generation; Watch Dogs. And it’s an IP that already has tongues wagging, already impresses greatly and if they can maintain the quality of the demo in a final product, there is no question that this game is going to do extremely well for itself. Capcom have unveiled a new IP themselves – not content with the success of Dragon’s Dogma, they now are taking on a science fiction thriller called Remember Me, sort of Assassin’s Creed meets Prince of Persia set in the future. It’s a gorgeous game, a new IP and part of this generation.
New IPs are essential at every stage of a generational cycle; it’s when there are no new IPs in any given fiscal year that you should really start to worry. But why do some in the industry feel a next generation is so important, when they can do so much with what we already have? There are many reasons for this, so let’s knock through a few.
I’ve said that making games nowadays is not cheap – much like the movie industry, breaking even isn’t good enough. Backers don’t want to see just their money back, they want to see a profit on their investment and as the cost of making games goes up, so too does the number of sales required to make money. The unrealistic expectations are getting more and more drastic for some games today – Kingdoms of Amalur needed three million sales to break even, for a new IP that was a surprisingly tall order which never really made it to reality. EA have also said the release of Dead Space 3 will require five million sales to break even – even for an established name, that’s a tall order. Companies are shifting the numbers to justify their costs, rather than do their best to keep the costs down throughout. The expectation is, through us as consumers, we can be charged for DLC, extra content, costumes and more. We are being asked to make up the difference, and it is becoming less and less reasonable to do so.
Thing is, this can be surprising when you look at other games – take Dark Souls, a game which has sold an estimated three million units. FROM Software were making profits when the game hit a million sales – and have continued to make a profit since, allowing them the freedom to port the game to the PC and create actual, meaningful DLC content that adds a good ten to twenty hours to a game that already many have invested a hundred hours into. This is how DLC should be – it wasn’t there from the start, or even intended, but we in supporting the game are now set to get content that is fresh to the game, brings new challenges, new equipment and some gorgeous new locales. And Dark Souls is far from an ugly game – even with some technical engine slowdown issues in Blighttown, it’s an achingly pretty game.
The question is then why FROM can make a profit from a million sales, and yet Dead Space 3… well… can’t. And to be honest, it’s a question the industry needs to be asking itself. I applaud FROM Software in what they did with Dark Souls, a great IP (if a spin-off from Demons Souls) and think it’s fantastic they made a lot of money from it. They deserved to. EA are spending lots of money on super special effects, FMV, voice actors… and yet – and yet – the more we see of Dead Space 3, the more we are turned off. I won’t judge it as a game yet – but it has drifted far from its original horror origins, where the first game itself was made to a tight budget – and was a huge success, making EA a lot of money. The more money you have to throw at something, it seems, the more drive there is to show off and, unfortunately, the more money there is to lose on the line.
The other problem is that EA, UbiSoft, Epic Games, Crytek and others have already made middleware solutions for the next gen.
The push for new consoles is not because they can’t make new IPs for this generation, or for another three or four years with current technology. The drive is coming from the idea of making more money doing very little else than pushing for it, hoping and praying that other studios and developers will be rushed off their feet enough that they find the charms and appeals of all these easy, pre-built game engines almost irresistible.
Now, there is nothing inherently WRONG with game engines – in the right hands, even RPG Maker 2000 has put out some quality stuff. The thing is, it’s also not cheap. A commercial licence can be a good 10% of a games overall budget, a mammoth slice of already rising costs, and this often means less staff on the projects as the engine has already been taken care of. Talented, driven software engineers are finding it harder and harder to break into an industry which is trying to cut corners, without realising that it’s actually costing them more than if they hired a team for six months to make one from scratch. The industry is driven by speed and convenience, whatever the cost, and then it has the gall to complain in the press almost every damned week about how expensive it is to make games. Well duh, you are pushing the costs up – and guess what? A next-gen will push costs up even more.
People will need to buy new tech, new devkits, new software, retrain staff all the while paying the bills and wages and taxes. And this won’t come cheap, as the middleware solutions also rise in cost. It’s almost impossible to believe that the industry can’t see how self-destructive it has become to itself – but stupidity, as they say, is often without limits. Everything rises in costs, all the while trying not to price itself so far out of the current line that customers rebel. Even if we all know current prices are unrealistic compared to the actual cost of some games.
But that’s the sad thing – we don’t really NEED a next-generation. The industry wants it because it feels there is more money in it, not because new IPs need a new platform to thrive on. New IPs happen and will happen throughout the lifespan of a generation, as is the way and has always been the way. A next-generation is about money, plain and simple. Next-gen middleware solutions have been made, the money has been spent on them and god help anyone who stands in the way of the push for new tech solutions.
You just have to look at Watch Dogs, Remember Me and The Last of Us to see what the tech we already have is capable of when put in the right hands. And there may be more to give, there may be another step to take, but it’s unlikely we’ll see that final step because the industry isn’t willing to wait around. There is money spent, money to be made and therefore no time to allow this generation to plateau and end in a graceful, natural fireball of brilliance.
And the thing is, the games I mentioned – pushing the boundaries of what the current tech can do – are all, every one of them, brand new IPs. All of them doing amazing things, looking amazing and thrilling us all.
If we’re going to be honest here, this is the best time for new IPs. New consoles don’t always sell new IPs. People will buy consoles to play the next exciting installment of what they already know and love. It is here, at the tail end of a generation, when all has already been said and done, that we welcome new ideas and properties to the party. Where we notice them most of all. When we really need them and when we really want them. They dominate the skyline because they are new, daring and exciting, and when we’re running a little on empty with all the sequels, it’s a second wind sensation that picks us up and excites us as gamers again.
The industry has it all backwards, in so many ways. It would be almost impressive it it wasn’t so obviously depressing.